To Return Home Or Not: A Sticky Question For Some Zimbabwean Students Studying Abroad

A range of factors influences African students to study abroad. However, the question of whether to return to their home countries after completing their studies, in most cases, still remains to be answered.

Some reasons are purely academic, others economic, and others political.

For 20-year-old Zimbabwean Constance Paidarufaro Ruvimbo Chivanga who is set to start her studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, in September 2023 after getting a scholarship, it is a done deal that she will head back home after her studies.

She will be studying towards a BSc in agricultural-food business management, majoring in agricultural business management, thanks to the scholarship she was offered by the university.

Upon completing her studies, she intends to come back home as she contends that Zimbabwe is the best location in which to practise agriculture and business, and to continue her writing career.

Scholarship opportunity

“I received the President’s International Distinction Scholarship for international students. It is only given to 25 students from a pool of 800 worldwide. The criteria for the president’s award are superior academic standing, demonstrated leadership, volunteerism, and community engagement,” she told University World News.

Chivanga thinks there are a number of factors that helped to land her a scholarship Canada. “I believe that my service in the Leo Club, a community-based service club through which we visit orphanages, are involved with drug abuse campaigns and fundraising for good causes, contributed. I had been serving in this club for eight years. In it, I also took up leadership roles such as president, vice-president, and Zimbabwe and Botswana project director,” she explained.

Leos are clubs composed of young people working to make the world a better place under the mentorship of Lions Clubs International members who mentor and empower young leaders to foster a commitment to community service.

She also believes that her experiences with other causes such as founding a talent marketing organisation and being actively involved in church as a youth teacher, prayer leader and volunteer had a role to play in her application’s success.

Chivanga wrote a book, Before it fades,which was launched on 13 May 2023 in Harare. She said the title, Before it fades, suggests that, before the youthful years fade away, there are things young people should make sure they do in their lives, adding that the book “is meant to be that one-year-older brother or sister. Every chapter was written to motivate the young person facing the world”.

Why study abroad?

“My degree programme is a combination of BSc in agriculture and business management, something that only the University of Alberta offered. I also wish to widen my perspective to learn more about the international community as I wish to be a leader. Quoting Pastor Tom [Deuschle], a leader, is as effective as his exposure,” she said.

Another Zimbabwean student, Mike Masamvu, is in his second year at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, United States, studying computer science and economics.

He told University World News that gaining admission to Yale with the help of the institution’s financial aid was made easier by the fact that the high school he went to in South Africa, African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, employs university guidance counsellors.

The counsellors assist pupils to transition into higher education and tell them about all the documents they need beforehand, which makes the application process easier.

Masamvu said the South African high school also has an academically rigorous curriculum.

His choice of Yale was motivated by his belief that any technology student wanting to reach the stars must study in the US. “I am enthusiastic about technology and believe the US has the best opportunities in that industry. I wanted to surround myself with brilliant minds from across the globe and l believe Yale University, in particular, is one of the places where those people are found,” he said.

“I would love to work for about 10 years in the US to build my skills and experience at the best companies in the world.”

Cultural challenges

He said life away from home is obviously not easy, but he has adapted and got used to the culture and environment over time. “I made a lot of mistakes in my first year and learned from that. Now I am happy that I have found my spaces and my people, so life is so much better,” he added.

Masamvu said that, among the mistakes he made at Yale, he tried to fit into different social groups because of the fear that he was not going to make friends but, unfortunately, that socially drained him. He said he also joined clubs and activities that he had participated in at high school. He says he wishes he could have tried new things, and that is one thing he is working on correcting this coming semester.

Mike Masamvu (left) studies in the US while Makatendeka Chikumbu (right) is pursuing his academic career in Canada, Images provided

Oliver Mandeya is a third-year social work student at the UK’s Essex University. He said that he settled for a United Kingdom university as his family also lives there and, even though he was not persecuted in Zimbabwe, he was repelled by human rights abuses that are widespread there. “In Zim, there are human rights abuses, and there is a toxic environment,” Mandeya said.

He said he could only be attracted by Zimbabwe if people were granted their rights, the economy became functional, and if all things that make a country into a good place were restored.

Another Zimbabwean student studying abroad, Michelle Majuru, is in her third year at Vistula University in Warsaw, Poland, studying dietetics.

Majuru said she chose dietetics which is centred on nutrition and its impact on human health because her mother has diabetes. She wanted to know more about her condition and dietetics is a food-related health science programme. She applied through an agent and her parents are paying her fees.

Global career opportunities

Majuru does not yet know whether she will go back to her own country after her studies.

“Studying overseas can provide access to cutting-edge research facilities, advanced technology and expert faculty members who are leaders in their respective fields. This exposure can significantly enhance your academic and professional growth. Studying overseas can open up a wide range of global career opportunities,” she said.

“It allows you to build an international network of contacts, establish connections with professionals from various industries, and gain a competitive edge in the job market. Employers often value the international experience and cross-cultural skills that come with studying abroad, making you more attractive as a potential candidate.”

She added: “Studying overseas provides an opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture, interact with people from different backgrounds and broaden your world view. It exposes you to diverse perspectives, customs and traditions that can enhance your understanding of global issues and foster cultural sensitivity. Also, many countries abroad are known for their prestigious universities and educational institutions that offer high-quality academic programmes.”

She said the drawbacks of studying abroad can be difficulty in adapting to a new educational system, limited access to specific local knowledge and expertise, as well as homesickness.

Zimbabwean Makatendeka Chikumbu, a second-year engineering student at the University of British Columbia in Canada, said that, when he was in senior school, he applied mostly to universities in the US because they had application fee waivers, so he did not have to pay for most of his applications. He also applied to two schools in Canada where he had to pay the fee of C$200 (about US$152.6) per school.

He ended up receiving seven offers with scholarships and settled on the University of British Columbia.

Spreading his wings

Asked why he chose to study abroad, Chikumbu said: “I am passionate about technology and am a full-stack software developer. I have found my school courses prepared me well for the industry as they provide a tactical problem-solving skill set. I have lived in Africa all my life and wanted to see the world from a unique perspective and learn and live with advanced systems that are still unavailable back home. This exposure has allowed me to see different solutions at scale with the problems I am passionate about within agriculture and the overall African tech scene.”

He also said that, by attending one of the best universities in the world for his programme, he has easy access to leading researchers and industry experts as they are his professors.

Coming from Zimbabwe, he said he struggled a bit in the beginning as he was not used to snow. “I managed to adapt to the different cultures and weather here. I struggled a bit in the winter months as I was not used to snow, but I have since adjusted,” Chikumbu said.

On whether he will come back to Africa, the student said he will let time decide as, at present, he is fully focused on his studies and is making the most of the opportunities he has received.

University World News


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